Magharebia (Washington DC)

20 August 2014

Libya: Missing Libya Planes Spark Security Concerns

Nouakchott — The Tripoli airport siege led to the disappearance of several commercial planes. Now countries on both shores of the Mediterranean are worried about how the missing aircraft might be used by terrorists.

Rival militias have fought for control of the airport since mid-July, inflicting civilian casualties and extensive damage. But one unusual consequence of the ongoing battle has nearly a dozen countries on edge.

After eleven civilian airliners were hijacked during the fighting, "5+5" member states reportedly decided to add an element to their scheduled joint military exercise. This time, simulations will include intercepting civilian or military aircraft piloted by terrorists.

The air forces of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and Malta will participate in the upcoming exercise, in co-ordination with US naval forces stationed in the Mediterranean and Italy, Anatolia news agency reported on Monday, (August 18th).

"Libya was finally excluded because of the deteriorating security situation", Reporters.DZ quoted the Turkish agency as saying.

The objective of the exercise is to counter potential threats, such as the kind of suicide attacks seen on September 11, 2001, Sahara Media reported Monday.

Libya in recent months has become a hotbed for the most dangerous terrorists in the Sahel region. These include veteran jihadists who migrated to Libya after fighting in Syria.

"These terrorist elements are present in abundance in Libya and have gotten sophisticated weapons by buying them from smugglers, professional armed militias or even ordinary citizens," analyst Yakoub Mustafa told Magharebia. This volatile situation requires security partnerships among multiple countries, he added.

According to Moroccan reporter Youssef Lakhdar, "Co-ordination must be at all levels and not only when an imminent danger is coming."

If Maghreb countries had coalesced sooner, the security chaos in Libya might have been averted, he said.

"Libya is now a source of danger not only for neighbouring Maghreb countries but for all countries of the world," Lakhdar added.

The issue of Maghreb security came up August 15th, when African leaders attended the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Allied invasion of southern France during World War II.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was among the African leaders and WWII veterans invited to watch naval parades and air shows near Toulon.

His participation comes within the framework of strengthening security, military and economic co-operation between Mauritania and France, noted journalist Mohammed Yacoub Ould Moustafa.

"Many sons of the colonies participated in World War II," he added.

"This is why the presence of the Mauritanian president for this celebration is in recognition of Mauritania's efforts, in addition to the security policies connecting France with the countries of the Sahel," he said.

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